Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A Papua New Guinea's Net Bag (H.0061) from the UCL Ethnography Collections

Brief Description of the Object
H.0061 is a hand-made woven string bag with a handle strap made of natural plant fibres. It is made in Papua New Guinea and the bag has a particular name called ‘bilum’ in Tok Pisin. The bag about 35 cm wide, 45 cm long of the upper edge and 58 cm long of the bottom edge. The weave has a ‘trapezoid’ design with color red, dark blue and yellowish brown. The object was traditionally used by women to carry large produce or their babies. The strap would be worn over the forehead and the bag on the back. The object was donated to the collection in 2002 by Dr. Paulette M. Mcmanus. The raw material of the bilum probably is the fibre of the inner bark of local plants in Papua New GuineaThe manufacture technology is a distinctive single element looping technique which is differ from weaving or knotting.

Brief Condition Assessment
Overall the object is stable. There are some breaks on the edge of the body of the bag. The strap is very fragile and there are more breaks on it. The worst deterioration refers to the discoloration and fading of the dyes. After my investigation, the object was moved to a new storage space where it is kept in a new box and a customized mount support.

Statement of Significance
The manufacture techniques, the decorated patternd and colord make the object unique in the collection.
The object is probably related to the daily life of an ordinary woman in Papua New Guinea. It can be used as  teaching material and help students understand the importance of bilum in New Guinea people’s daily life.
The bright colors and decorative patterns of bilum are generally made by women to stress beauty.
It is one of the elements of women attire in this region. It is an importan source to provide understanding of gender relationships and everyday life of a Papua New Guinea woman.

All images by author. Please do not use without permission. 

Alessandro, J. and Hellmich, C., 2008. From Construction to Ritual Function: An Exploration of New Guinea Fiber Masterworks. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceeding Paper 1/1, 1-11.
Andersen, B., 2015. Style and self-making: String bag production in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Anthropology Today 31/5, 16-20.
Mackenzie, M., 1991. Androgynous objects: String bags and gender in Central New Guinea. Glasgow: Harwood Academic Publishers.
Stewart, P. and Strathern, A., 1997. Netbags revisited: Cultural Narratives from Papua New Guinea. Pacific Studies 20/2, 1-29. 

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2015-16), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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